Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The End of Postcommunism? the Beginning of a Supercommunism? China's New Perspective

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The End of Postcommunism? the Beginning of a Supercommunism? China's New Perspective

Article excerpt

Abstract: Some scholars think that the term postcommunism is now useless because the outcomes of transition in the former state-socialist European countries have been consolidated. However, ongoing transformation in China, particularly the recent return of the influence of the state in both economic and social welfare domains, makes this country a specific model of "transition" that negates the end-of-postcommunism thesis. I argue that even after more than two decades of moving away from the classical socialist system, postcommunism is not a redundant concept. Instead, for comparative research on East Asia and Central and Eastern Europe, recognizing the past of actually existing socialism as well as its legacies would considerably contribute to our understanding of countries' diverse trajectories and performances.

Keywords: postcommunism; super-communism; comparative analysis; China.

Introduction: The Crisis in Comparative Sociological Studies of Postcommunism

Gone are the days when the subject of "postcommunism" was a flourishing public platform for sociologists around the world to discuss pressing theoretical and empirical issues they were facing in the 1990s, particularly those who studied Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and East Asia (EA). The comparative sociological research of postcommunism is now in crisis. In Central and Eastern Europe, postcommunism has been declared dead. A large number of Chinese sociologists, including some eminent scholars who were active in the study of European postcommunism during the 1990s, are now focusing almost exclusively on Chinese domestic issues. For them there is no need to take the initiative to keep themselves up-to-date on what is happening in normalized CEE countries - though Russia might be an exception. As renowned scholar of Eastern Europe studies, Yan Jin wrote in an Economic Observer column: "It seemed that even those so-called well-informed persons had shifted their interests to elsewhere; for Eastern Europe, 'no news is good news'" (Jin 2009: 13). Overall, the intellectual interaction between domestic Chinese and European-American scholars of postcommunism is strikingly insufficient.

How has this happened? The underlying crux of the crisis of postcommunist sociological study comes to a larger extent from intellectual indifference - a large number of researchers think the comparison between East Asian and Eastern Europe today is much less intellectually exciting and intriguing than they were two decades ago. For Chinese scholars and students, transformation in postcommunist Europe is believed to be settled; thus there would be no strong demand to compare these "former socialist comrades" to transitional societies. In other words, as one of my colleagues put it, "If the European former socialist countries have become a consolidated part of the West, why bother to focus on these small countries, smaller than a province in China?"1

Post-postcommunism: A European Bias?

With the fall of Soviet Union in 1991, the era of postcommunism spread over Eurasia. Two decades later, as people celebrate or mourn the end of all the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, some scholars have been suggesting for years that postcommunism itself is also coming to an end. András Bozóki has maintained that "just as neither Germany nor Italy were called postfascist countries in 1960, fifteen years after the Second World War, so Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have shed the title of postcommunist states, fifteen years after Communism fell" (Bozoki 2005: 34). And he is neither the first nor the last to share this idea (Gross and Tismaneanu 2005; Holmes 2001; King 2000; Kubicek 2009).

What exactly does the word "postcommunism" mean?2 Literally, it is a negative concept: an economic system understood through the termination of its past (Zolkos 2004) or by "what preceded it rather than by what it actually is" (Stroehlein 1999: 11). In this sense, postcommunism is a timeless term, because it indicates the death of the communist system and a shift toward "a more open and 'discursive' type of politics" (Sakwa 1999: 1). …

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